There is a new book, Wonder of Wonders, about the origins of Fiddler on the Roof, tracing it from a series of Shalom Aleichem short stories to Broadway to Hollywood. But that’s not where the Fiddler story ends. Its impact on popular culture is much deeper and wider than a Yiddish/klezmer/shtetl-based work could ever have reasonably expected to be. Here are more than a dozen of the strangest offspring Fiddler has birthed:
One of the most public covers was “Rich Girl,” performed by two women who were certainly rich: former No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani and rapper Eve. The number was produced by Dr. Dre (also rich!) and it opened nothing less than the Grammys in 2005.
But the Stefani/Eve song was itself a cover of a “If I Was a Rich Girl,” a reggae version by British duo Louchie Lou & Michie One. The rappers Sand People name-check “If I Were a Rich Man” (the track has some R-rated language), too.
While rapping is something Sinead O’Connor is not known for, she does so on “Famine”— about the Irish Potato Famine— while sampling Fiddler’s “Tradition!”
The mashup artist Lenlow has mixed “Tradition!” with an “electroclash” track called “Dog Ruff” by Jon E. Storm— to make a mashup he titled “The Roof is on Fire.” In case you like visuals with your music, someone threw a bunch of images from J-Pop (i.e., Japanese pop music) videos over the track. The resulting klezmer/dance-rock/Hello Kitty adorableness is here.
And still speaking of adorable, Sesame Street uses “Tradition!” to teach… “Addition!” It’s part of their Monsterpiece Theater series, hosted by Alistair Cookie.
What, not enough puppets? OK, fine. Here, the puppets of Avenue Q welcome the Anatevka refugees to their street, redubbed “Avenue Jew.”
Others have assayed medleys of more than one song. One of the earliest was by Motown’s greatest klezmer act, The Temptations. (The mere fact that they covered this musical makes the above claim true.)
Before he created the great City Winery venues, Michael Dorf founded the iconic Knitting Factory club in 1987, and ran it until 2002. The club spun off of a label, which wove a fun version of Fiddler, with covers by cutting edge musicians, called Knitting on the Roof.
An entire punk version of the musical was arranged and performed by YIDcore, a Jewish punk band from Australia. Here is their stand-alone (and NSFW) video of “If I Were a Rich Man,” which likely inspired these punks to take it all the way. Oh, and I’ve met these guys; the lead singer has a law degree and has served as his shul president. Only in Australia!
Meanwhile, in America, one of our great traditions is… the football halftime show! Yes, bands from Florida’s DeLand High School (Florida) up through Michigan State University have marched their way through fiddle-less Fiddler medleys.
On its 25th anniversary world tour, Fiddler made it to Japan. At the intermission, the Japanese theater’s manager approached the American producer, asking: “Do they get this in America? It’s so Japanese!” Evidently, however, not Japanese enough, because someone went and made an entirely Japanese version. Yes, in Japanese. And since we have done a lot of “Rich Man" and "Tradition” already, here are the Japanese versions of “To Life” and “Matchmaker.”
You know, all of this fiddling with Fiddler makes Cannonball Adderly’s jazz-sax medley sound positively. .. traditional.
Do you know any more out-there covers or versions of Fiddler songs? Let me know in the comments below!